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NAMB Vision Center to debut during SBC's annual meeting
By James Dotson
      ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--The experience begins with a walk through inner-city Baltimore, circa 1880 -- the mission field of pioneer missions advocate Annie Armstrong. Then the scene fast-forwards to a modern-day slum -- a decaying neighborhood complete with abandoned storefronts, a police helicopter hovering overhead and open windows of homes bearing testimony to families in crisis. It is only then that visitors to the North American Mission Board's new Vision Center begin to realize there is ray of hope penetrating this barren landscape: the good news of Jesus Christ. And through individual efforts and cooperation with other Southern Baptists across the country, they can have a part in making that hope reality in the lives of millions.
     More than a mere video or dramatization, the Vision Center provides a three-dimensional, interactive experience of sight, sound and touch using ultra-realistic, professionally designed sets. Located on the first floor of NAMB's office building in suburban Atlanta, it has been dubbed a "ride on foot" -- with the intense emotional impact directed toward mobilizing on-mission Christians. "This project was birthed not so there would be a facility on-site that would simply tell the story, but it is a tool that could ... draw people to come to this facility and encourage them to discover how they can be on mission," said Chuck Allen, executive director of leadership development for NAMB.
     The Vision Center's formal grand opening will be held June 16-17, during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Atlanta, although the center will be open for tours beginning June 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hours of the grand opening are from noon-4 p.m. June 16 and all day June 17. Christian recording artist Steve Green will be on hand from 2-4 p.m. during the June 16 event. Author Henry Blackaby will hold book-signing sessions both days, and Annie Armstrong -- portrayed by actress Freddie Neel -- also is scheduled to make several appearances. The concept for the NAMB Vision Center actually originated about two years ago with Robert E. "Bob" Reccord, the agency's president. During a vacation visit to the Focus On the Family complex in Colorado Springs, Colo., just before taking leadership of NAMB, Reccord said he was impressed with how effectively the organization's Visitor's Center portrayed its mission and ministry.
     "I thought what an incredible idea for the North American Mission Board," he said, "but it ought to be a vision center -- not just about who we are but where we're going. And it should cast a vision to help people see how they personally could be a part of impacting North America with the gospel."
     Reccord said he was struck by how the attractive office building NAMB occupies was nonetheless not as effective at helping visitors grasp the extent of the agency's work. Also, he saw a need for a more effective training tool for the thousands of missionaries, volunteers and other ministry partners who come through the building each year -- to help them get a full picture of NAMB's work and ministry.
     "The North American Mission Board belongs to Southern Baptists, and while we have some visitors, I thought wouldn't it be exciting ... if we saw visitors here quadruple or quintuple. So if people were traveling, the North American Mission Board could become a destination for Southern Baptists," Reccord said. Allen did much of the research into how the center would be designed, visiting about a dozen corporate and ministry welcome centers around the country. The "ride on foot" concept for the NAMB Vision Center, he said, came from his experience with Florida's Daytona USA.
     "I thought to myself, if people can get this excited about the history of stock car racing, then surely they can get excited about NAMB's Vision Center as an on-mission story."
NAMB's center illustrates a number of different ministries being undertaken by Southern Baptists around the country. As visitors are drawn through the maze of sights and sounds, they experience a prisoner's powerful testimony scrawled on the walls of his cell. Then they find themselves in a living room, with the gospel being presented inside and a backyard Bible club going on outside. In the next room, a ship coming out of the wall represents ministries to seafarers. Around each corner lies a new story of how Southern Baptists are involved in reaching North American and Canada for Christ.
     "We thought it was important to portray how widespread our ministries are, and to portray how it's done in cooperation with states and associations," Allen said. There is also a computerized game show where participants can compete at answering questions about mission efforts. There is a theater where Southern Baptists' role in disaster relief operations is portrayed first on screen, then in the room around them with striking realism. And there is a clear presentation of the gospel with an opportunity to respond. Finally, visitors will exit through the On Mission Resource Center, where they will have an opportunity to get more information about starting a church, going on a mission trip, or otherwise becoming more effective in helping reaching North America.
     "The average Southern Baptist is not aware of the many ministries that are taking place in North America," Allen said, "and this allows us both to let them see the opportunities that are available to them, and to help them discover new ministry opportunities."

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